Laurence Pithie may have been visibly frustrated after the final stage of the Tour Down Under in Adelaide when his attack from the leading group was pulled back in with less than 600m to go, but there was nothing but joy on the Geelong waterfront a week later when the rider from New Zealand claimed his first WorldTour victory at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race.
That stage in South Australia at the top of Mount Lofty last Sunday was followed by phone calls to family and friends as the Groupama-FDJ rider digested and processed the frustration of coming so close, analysing how he could have played it differently after finishing fifth as he was swamped by the catching four.
“That’s part of the sport, it’s all about reflection and learning from possible mistakes and how you can move forward,” said Pithie.
And, a week later, he moved forward in the very best of ways.
”At the end of the TDU I was super disappointed in the moment but looking back on it I think I rode really well. I had to make a split-second decision … my decision was to attack, looking back at it maybe I should have waited you know but that’s racing and hindsight is the best thing.”
Hindsight is something Pithie’s rivals will have to grapple with this time because, perhaps having learnt from the scenario that played out the week before, Pithie played his hand to perfection at an edition of the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race that came down to a reduced group, belting toward the line with attacks flying before the frenetic finishing charge.
“I was staying towards the front. Those attacks were going and I knew I just had to be patient,” said Pithie, perhaps remembering the lessons of Mount Lofty. “I knew I couldn’t be the one that closed them otherwise I wouldn’t have the legs for the sprint.
“I just had to wait, wait, wait. Got a little bit boxed in towards the end when everyone opened up around the outside but I managed to find a gap and work my way back.”
The result was that Pithie charged through in the tightest of finishes. There was not only waiting during the racing but also after just to be sure the prize was his after the close run sprint with Natnael Tesfazion (Lidl-Trek). This time, however, the result went his way and the Kiwi ended up walking away from his Australia racing block with three top-five stage finishes at the Tour Down Under, fifth at the Surf Coast Classic but most importantly, of course, that first WorldTour win.
“It’s amazing, to finish like this, it’s a dream come true,” said Pithie.
Pithie was certainly a rider that was talked about on the run into the 176.5km race – he’d made it hard not to notice the strength of his form by sticking close to the front in both the climbs and sprint days of the season so far. Still, it was his countryman Corbin Strong who was prominent among the favourites, particularly given the splash his Israel-Premier Tech team had made winning the Tour Down Under.
Strong’s team was actually crucial in closing down a late attack by US champion Quinn Simmons (Lidl-Trek) but it wasn’t the New Zealander that they had planned on that benefitted. Strong came fourth and it was Pithie instead on top of the podium.
The fast-finishing duo from New Zealand will face off again at the national Road Championships, with the U23 and elite men’s road race taking place on Saturday, February 10 in Timaru. After the national title battle, Pithie will head to Europe to continue his second year as a WorldTour professional, which is one where his first WorldTour win is likely to be just one of the many steps in his progression.
Pithie said he will be starting with the Classics but the big goal is to hunt stages at the Giro d’Italia.
“Got some leadership there so it will be nice to do my first Grand Tour and experience what three weeks of racing is like and see how I can go there,” said Pithie.
Then attention could well turn to Paris where Strong and Pithie could potentially turn from rivals to allies, if both are selected.
“As you’ve seen there is a strong Kiwi contingent in the WorldTour now, a few guys who could be there,” said Pithie. “But if I can continue to race like this, for sure I’ll have my spot there.
“Going there with a rider like Corbin would be really amazing. We are both aggressive racers who can really take it and a small field like that, it is quite a unique race, so my eyes are on the Olympics for sure.”